Untold Stories of Solidarity between Muslims & Jews for UN Holocaust Memorial day - Sarah Joseph OBE
As editor of emel, I was really pleased to be able to bring the story of "When Muslims Saved Jews" to the attention of the Muslim community to coincide with Holocaust Memorial 2010. This year I was even more delighted to be able to give a speech at the launch of Missing Pages, a campaign to rediscover the shared history of Muslims and Jews, and which highlights the stories of courage, conviction and a covenant of faith which led Muslims to save the lives of Jews during WWII.
Sarah’s speech Transcript:
Lord Patel, Lord Janner, my Lords, Ladies, and Gentleman, brothers and sisters, friends. Assalamu alaikum, Shalom Aleichem, peace be upon you all.
It gives me great pleasure to be here today to address this gathering, for I believe it is a singular opportunity for goodness that will open the doors to many other opportunities in the future.
When we ran the article in emel “When Muslims Saved Jews” in January 2010, we felt that we planted a seed, and today we see that bearing fruit in the work being done by the Exploring Islam Foundation, so brilliantly led by Remona Aly.
We have already had this morning a brief glimpse into the ground breaking and beautiful work of Norman Gershman and his search for ‘good people’, and been inspired by Dr Scarlett Epstein, who made me cry, as she recounted the story of her being saved by Albanian Muslims during World War II. Her story was not a one off: As the missing pages of history are being found, we now know that in Albania and Kosovo, Jews were safe. Muslims ignored the grave risks to themselves and sheltered not only their Jewish neighbours, but also thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi terror. Johanna Neumann of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum states, “During the Nazi occupation of Albania there is not one confirmed instance of a Jew being handed over to the Nazis by a Muslim Albanian.” By contrast, in Macedonia, just 170 miles from the Albanian capital, the oldest Jewish community in mainland Europe was exterminated.
The Albanian government actively defied Nazi rule. In 1938 King Zog, the first and only Muslim King of Europe, issued four hundred passports to refugee Jews, granting them safe entry into Albania. After learning of the Nazi campaign elsewhere in Europe, the Mayor of Tirane issued documents to Jewish families, protecting them by stating they were Muslims. When the Germans occupied Albania and demanded lists of Jews from the authorities, the Albanians answered, “We don’t know any Jews, we only know Albanians.” Everybody knew, but nobody told.
These are not the only missing pages of the history between Muslims and Jews. There are other pages – La Convivencia is one I shall briefly mention. I do not wish to romanticize the period, for like all interactions within human history, it was not perfect, Nevertheless, La Convivencia – namely the coexistence of Christians, Muslims, and Jewish communities in the Iberian Peninsula between the years 711 and 1492 was more than co-existence. It was the interplay of cultural ideas between the three groups, a sharing of vision, of cultural interaction. A time not just of religious tolerance, but of a remarkable cross-fertilisation which saw exchanges in astronomy, philosophy and mathematics, which allowed for Arabic poetry to help inspire the first Hebrew secular poetry since biblical times, which saw the Mudejar architectural style, developed by Muslims under Christian rule, grafted onto Sephardic Jewish synagogues and Christian churches.
Our reconnection with lost history is vital for many reasons.
The Holocaust was a gross inhumanity; a scar on our collective human history. Yet to focus on where we went right in our history brings healing, gives us hope, and allows for the re-establishment of warm and amiable relations. Given the current negative situation with regards to international politics never was this need more pressing.
The word Besa –the title of Norman’s book – means obligation, promise, a covenant. As people of faith we are obligated by a covenant to our faiths, but also by our faiths. Our faiths all teach the highest levels of human dignity, morality and righteous conduct.
Ever since Huntingdon popularised the clash of civilisations thesis, we have heard an increasing number of commentators pontificate on the impossibilities of Islam co-existing with other cultures. I wish to cast aside the clash of civilisation, and move beyond even the co-existence of civilisations. For, the missing pages of history give a lie to the clash of civilisation, and the time for a mere side-by-side co-existence of civilisations has passed.
The time is now ready for the collaborations of civilisations - where we work together, inspired by the beacon moments of our past, and the common principles of our faiths, to work for a future where we once again engage, exchange, and enrich each other in order to tackle the pressing problems that the world is faced with today.
We have to ask ourselves what type of world do we want to live in. We have to ask ourselves what are the important global issues of the day which need our help, our faith and the beacons of history?
There is no doubt there is an increasing anti-Semitism which has crept into the British Muslim community, outside of legitimate political discourse on international affairs. There is no doubt that there are Jewish commentators in Britain who are fanning the flames of anti-Muslim hatred and paranoia, again outside of legitimate social analysis.
We have to be brave – like those who resisted the rampant hatred and bigotry of the Nazis. We have to be the safe harbour for both our communities where we can build trust, talk and think together.
We have to fill in the missing pages of our own shared history, and together write the blank pages of our future.
For more information on the Missing Pages Campaign of the Exploring Islam Foundation: www.missingpages.co.uk
Sarah Joseph OBE,
Editor & CEO of emel Magazine